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Barrett, Dobbins lead Ohio State to Big Ten championship

By Jared McMurry (@jaredmac26)

Sports Capital Journalism Program

INDIANAPOLIS – Ohio State found holes in the Wisconsin defense and stifled the Badgers running game, holding on for a 27-21 victory in the 2017 Big Ten Football Championship Game Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The win gave the No. 8 Buckeyes (11-2) their 36th Big Ten football title and its 11th in the last 25 years, and opens up the possibility of the College Football Playoff Committee selecting them as the first two-loss team in the four-year history of the selection process.

“We have two wins over two top-four teams, and another one, I believe they were ranked 12th to 13th,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said about his team’s playoff chances. “We’re the conference champions. I love these guys. I’ve never been more proud of a group of players, and we deserve a shot.”

No. 4 Wisconsin (12-1) entered the game with one of the nation’s top defenses, allowing just 236.9 yards per contest, and averaging over 240 rushing yards per game led by freshman Jonathan Taylor.

However, over the first 30 minutes, the Buckeyes took what had been Wisconsin’s strengths all season, turned them into exposed weaknesses and a 21-10 halftime lead.

Ohio State scored 21 points in 9 minutes, 22 seconds, led by big plays from senior quarterback J.T. Barrett and freshman running back J.K. Dobbins to build a 21-7 advantage with 11:10 left in the first half.

After a Wisconsin punt pinned the Buckeyes inside their own five-yard line, Barrett orchestrated the longest scoring drive in B1G Title Game history, capping a four play, 96-yard drive with an 84-yard touchdown strike to Terry McLaurin.

If there was any doubt Barrett was not going to be able to perform at 100 percent after having surgery to remove a piece of torn meniscus in his right knee last Sunday, it was quickly gone.

Barrett was injured in a non-football injury prior to the start of Ohio State’s 31-20 win at Michigan last week, and was a game-time decision Saturday.

Nothing was going to sideline Ohio State’s only three-time team captain.

“On Saturday after we played the team up north (Michigan), I said I was going to play next week,” Barrett said. “So if I didn’t, I was kind of going to be a liar. And I wouldn’t lie.”

Barrett continued to impress, finding Parris Campbell on a screen pass, that the junior took 57 yards for a touchdown that put the Buckeyes ahead 14-7 with under a minute to go in the first. With his second passing touchdown, Barrett passed his own single-season mark for the most passing touchdowns in Ohio State history with his 35th of the 2017 season.

A third big play of the first half came from Dobbins on a 77-yard gallop to the end zone early in the second quarter.

Dobbins added another run of 53-yards in the second half on his way to a 17-carry, 174-yard performance that earned him the Grange-Griffin Championship Game Most Valuable Player award. Dobbins turned the credit over to Buckeyes up front.

“It’s very special, but I have to give all the credit like I did to my offensive line, and all the credit to God, because that’s who it was,” he said.

The explosive plays not only helped give the Buckeyes the halftime lead, which they never relinquished, but gave Ohio State a 309-159 total yard advantage over the Badgers at the half.

Despite the two team’s offenses heading in much different directions, Wisconsin’s defense turned timely turnovers into points, keeping the Badgers hopes of a college football playoff berth alive until the final minutes.

Andrew Van Ginkel intercepted Barrett and returned it nine yards for the Badgers’ only first-half touchdown, and later forced a fumble that led to a Wisconsin field goal, cutting the deficit to 21-13 with 10:14 to play in the third quarter.

Later in the third, a Barrett pass went through the intended Buckeyes receiver’s hands and into the hands of Leon Jacobs, setting up a 48-yard Wisconsin scoring drive. A 1-yard touchdown run by Chris James and two-point conversion pass from Alex Hornibrook to tight end Troy Fumagalli made it 24-21 with 12:39 to play.

After Barrett’s interception, the Ohio State quarterback appeared to be limping on the Buckeye sideline. But he wasn’t coming out, not in this big of game, and certainly not when his team needed him the most.

“He (Barrett) gives your team an extra boost,” Dobbins said about his teammate. “Because he’s going to go out there and give it his all for us, so why not give it our all for him, and he just brings us closer as a team.”

Not only did Barrett return to the field, but pieced together a 15-play, 72-yard drive that resulted in a Sean Nuernberger 20-yard field goal. The drive ran 7:19 off the clock, before the Ohio State defense came up with two final stops in the final moments to seal the Badgers’ fate.

Meyer never doubted Barrett’s ability to guide the Buckeyes in the game’s most critical moments.

“That’s just because I’ve had (Tim) Tebow and this kid’s a lot like him,” Meyer said of the quarterback that helped his Florida Gators win the 2006 national championship. “How you keep him out of a game? I just don’t know how it happens.”

Overall, the Ohio State defense held the Badgers to 298 total yards, and just 60 on the ground.

Four years ago Ohio State played for a Big Ten championship and needed to impress the selection committee to get into the playoffs. A 59-0 win over Wisconsin in 2013 pushed the Buckeyes into the playoff and eventually to a national championship.

Saturday’s 27-21 win wasn’t quite as convincing, but Ohio State proved its point, and celebrated wholeheartedly with thousands of the Buckeye faithful.

Locking arms and joining in with the Ohio State marching band.

Oh come let’s sing Ohio’s praise…

Dear Alma Mater… O H I O

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